Today is the last day of my No Sugar project!
Historically, nutrition was on and off a mildly interesting hobby. I’d been on diets that lasted anywhere between two minutes and two days. Before I get into this month’s project allow me to illustrate how much I didn’t think about food until the last few months:
Exhibit A: My parents had to feed me until I was about seven because I simply didn’t want to eat.
Exhibit B: One summer in college, I lived alone off campus, like an adult, for the first time ever. To optimize for economy and walking distance, I ate the same thing everyday:
- Breakfast: Honey Nut Cheerios + whole milk
- Lunch: The first half of the cheapest possible footlong Subway sandwich – wheat, turkey, all veggies, no cheese, vinegar
- Dinner: The second half
Sometimes I would go to the mall on a weekend and get General Tso’s chicken. I lost one pound that summer. I will never eat Subway ever again, but that’s a different story…
Exhibit C: When I stopped working a 9-5 job in 2015, I once again optimized my meals for economy and effort. I tried to get some veggies and some protein into every meal, and I quickly settled into two default meals that I ate almost everyday:
- 2 poached eggs + boiled spinach (I didn’t know about spices yet, so these were always plain. Fortunately I like the taste of both!)
- A handful of cashews + sauerkraut, if I was too lazy to boil things
In a few months, I had shed the 20 pounds I had gained since late high school.
Exhibit D: I was really into the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and tried having juice as one of my meals each day. This lasted about two days at a time. I noticed no effects. I have since come to understand that juicing will not do what most people are going for, but I would still recommend the documentary for inspiration.
So to say that I now truly care about understanding nutrition, through research and self-experiments, is a big deal. I’ve come to see that what we put into our bodies through our five senses, e.g. air, food, lotions, and ideas, literally makes up who we are.
Strategies that worked for me
This month’s No Sugar diet was one of my more successful self-projects, in terms of following through on what I said I would do. I credit these strategies:
1. Announcing my intention to family and friends in multiple socials circles, over multiple channels (blog, facebook, in person). And having a very simple, clear-cut message: “I’m avoiding added sugar for the whole month of January.”
2. Having active support and even passive or polite acceptance from my parents, roommate, friends, and random people I talked to. It’s hard enough to fight my own rebellious mind (“New rules? Challenge accepted.”). If I had to justify myself to others, I probably would have just given in early on.
3. Making a list of what I would and wouldn’t eat that was black-and-white AND intuitive to me. This way, whenever I ran into a new food, I could immediately, without internal discussion, say whether it was in or out.
4. Having an end date (today! :D) This prevented me from trying to reshuffle and optimize my rules endlessly, which I do with pretty much everything else in life.
5. Freezing meals and having fast backup options. I had frequent moments of mild panic about not having anything to eat and literally starving to death right there on the kitchen floor amidst my roommate’s frozen pizzas and Cheez-its. Seriously. I don’t know why we are so frequently afraid of starvation. My go-to lifesavers were nuts, frozen fish, peanut butter, bread, and oatmeal. Cooking on the weekend was time-consuming but very enjoyable.
6. Enjoying life. This is a bit of a passive strategy, but I’m occupied with enough fun activities all day to not worry about food as much. Some activities I did in Jan: class, homework, coaching, psych research, self food research, dance, rock climbing, sauna and hot tub, improv, support group, meditation, assembly planning, parents, friends, massages, house hunting, dating, reading, grad school applications. Ok the last one is mostly not fun. But studying for the GRE has been fun.
That said, I had sugar on several days, especially in the second half of the month. It was almost always at a restaurant, and almost always a savory dish that I was pretty sure had some small amount of sugar in it. I didn’t notice my cravings or other symptoms change whenever I had sugar.
I never had any dessert or primarily sweet food, except once. On Saturday, I went on a date to a fancy donut and ice cream shop, where I was quite impressed that I could visually enjoy but not remotely crave the donuts or ice cream. My date got a donut and hot chocolate, which smelled heavenly (I will definitely be having a hot chocolate tomorrow).
After the date, I went grocery shopping. Kroger was giving out samples of chocolate chip cookies, which didn’t look that great compared to the donuts I saw earlier. But, boy, am I a sucker for free stuff. I grabbed a cookie and took a bite.
Before the No Sugar project I appreciated any quality of free chocolate chip cookie (I mean, come on, it’s chocolate and cookie, and it’s free!). But this one, while it tasted the same as any other mediocre Kroger chocolate chip cookie, it just didn’t register as…happy.
Nevertheless, I persisted. I ate the rest of the cookie, thinking with each bite that maybe this time…
I hope this means that my dopamine-triggered reward circuit for sugar is mostly reset!
Here’s another example that suggests otherwise:
Last Friday night I broke down and had some of my roommate’s leftover spaghetti (the marinara sauce contained sugar). It was by far the most delicious, most pleasurable meal I had had in years. I ate the whole thing, about two meals’ worth for me!
Still, I didn’t experience any symptoms. Maybe my body is really bad at communicating with my conscious mind…
What has changed?
Physically, not much at all (that I can tell). I was going post the “after” measurements and photos, but they’re all pretty much the same! Again, I didn’t have much excess weight or chronic illness to begin with. If I get around to taking photos soon, I will post them.
But I was told by multiple sources that there would be epic poops. I was really looking forward to this, but my poops have been about the same, with some constipation since Day 1 because it’s been dry AF this winter. So I’d say this was the biggest disappointment.
More research and more experimenting! I want to do another similar month, but I may include refined carbs in my foods to avoid… I don’t know if I ate more flour and white rice this month than normal or it just feels like it because I was paying more attention, but I think refined carbs were the highest volume of unhealthy food in my diet all month.
After over a month of trying to research and write a post about the biochemistry of fructose, how it sneaks through our overdose alert systems, and how almost 100% of it gets turned into fat, …well, I discovered that the science is actually more systemically complex, more hole-ridden, AND more self-contradictory than that. Oy. I don’t know why I thought I could learn enough biochemistry in one month to plug all the holes in Dr. Lustig’s logic in Sugar: The Bitter Truth.
I now know more about what’s in my body than I imagined existed, and I still can’t tell you conclusively whether fructose is that much worse for you than glucose.
So I will continue to research and carve out some posts around the topic.
In the meantime, if you feel like reading some science, here’s a heavily cited lit review on what happens to fructose in the body. Unfortunately it’s written by two guys who are associated with a global food production corporation, so…yeah. Nutrition is hard.